Atlanta; age 50
Billy Bowers started riding an electric scooter 15 years ago as his polymyositis limited his walking. But he couldn’t take a scooter on long journeys for fear the batteries would run out, and he’d be stranded with no place to recharge. That’s when he came up with an idea for a gasoline/electric hybrid power scooter.
Before his diagnosis, Bowers worked as a mechanic, and he’d grown up watching his father work in a machine shop. It took him two years, but he configured a transmission with an engine for his electric power scooter. It can hold half a tank of gas and travel for 50 to 100 miles without refueling or charging. The hybrid scooter tops out at 15 miles per hour. Bowers uses the motor mostly for inclines and long runs, but switches back to electric power when he’s in a crowd.
He’s speaking with the Georgia Institute of Technology about possible mass production.
William "Bill" Oehlke
Devils Lake, N.D.; age 67
Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome
Bill Oehlke’s years as a volunteer fire chief helped him realize the need for better accessibility for people with disabilities, and gave him a few inexpensive ideas. After his LEMS diagnosis, Oehlke spent about an hour and less than $10 making a simple rope device he calls the “trapeze,” that users with weak muscles can hold while getting on and off the toilet.
Two 1-inch eyehooks are attached to the bathroom ceiling about 16 inches apart and 8 inches in front of the toilet. A length of ¼-inch nylon rope is braided through the hooks, then threaded through 5/16-inch holes in two 1¼-inch wooden dowels, 18 inches long. The top dowel is placed at the user’s shoulder level and the lower one 8 inches below. Both are secured with half-hitch knots. Oehlke recommends cleaning the ropes and dowels on a regular basis.
Bridgeton, Mo.; age 72
Homer Dillard’s family is musically inclined. His brothers are professional musicians, his wife plays the organ, his son plays the banjo and his daughter plays the guitar. So when Homer started losing strength in his fingers from IBM, he knew it would be tough to continue playing the violin or piano. He came up with two solutions to make sure he could still jam with his family.
Using three felt-covered hair ties, a straw and a Velcro wrist strap, he constructed a finger-tension device that holds his index finger in a downward position so he can strike a piano key. The cost of the supplies is 15 cents and it takes less than 5 minutes to make.
Dillard also figured out that he could play a recorder in the key of B with his palms. Most of the holes can be covered with hands, making finger strength unnecessary.
The music in Homer’s heart can now be heard again.
Littleton, Colo.; age 55
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
As his arms weakened from ALS, it became more difficult for Tom Riegner to hold a feeding tube and pour his liquid meals into the funnel. He created a feeding tube stand that allows him to pour with two hands.
Riegner attached the feeding tube’s syringe barrel to a 9-inch piece of 2-by-4, on a base of ¼-inch plywood. The device is easy to take apart and pack for travel.
father of two adult children with spinal muscular atrophy
Ed Ovelgone wanted to help his children have more freedom in their daily lives, especially when meeting bathroom needs away from home.
Now each has a faux leather bag attached to the wheelchair, which houses a sealed holding tank. Ovelgone used a Bard bed urinary bag, which holds twice the amount of a large leg bag. The sealed holding tank connects to the individual via tubing and a catheter, which is changed every day.
The pouch is suspended from the underside of the wheelchair seat (most seats have holes where screws can be attached). Another piece of “leather” — matching the wheelchair upholstery — can be attached to the front of the chair to entirely cover the pouch. Another pouch can be added in the back to hold a radio or speaker.